DeKALB – It’s their time.
Sophomore defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter were a heavy part of the rotation last season for Northern Illinois. Progar started when Jake Coffman had to move inside after Brian Lawson’s injury. Baxter entered for both Progar and Brandon Bice.
With Bice graduating and Coffman not returning for his senior season, the two defensive end spots – and all that comes with it – now belong to Progar and Baxter.
They’re looking forward to it.
“I feel like I could be dominant on the edge,” Progar said after Thursday’s practice at Huskie Stadium. “I should be dominant on the edge. I just want to get better.”
Progar, who was second on the team with six sacks and forced two fumbles in 2009, wants to be more than a dominant player, too.
“I feel like I need to be the leader, especially at the defensive end spot. [Tackles D.J.] Pirkle and [Mike] Krause are going to lead, but there’s no one on the outside besides me and Baxter,” Progar said. “The other guys are younger and they haven’t played.”
It’s an attitude that defensive line coach Jeff Phelps appreciates and said can be a unique quality not only in a sophomore, but a player who had to walk on and redshirt.
“Losing Jake and Bice and last year Larry (English), we’re looking for some guys that will step up and be that voice of the group,” Phelps said. “When you think about it, [Progar is] a guy that we knew would be good, but because of certain situations, had to come in as a walk-on to start off. Those success stories continue to happen.”
Baxter said he is focusing on one thing in particular, adding a spin move to his repertoire.
As a true freshman, Baxter relied more on his strength last season when he had 22 tackles and half-a-sack and believes he’s getting better at the spin move so far.
“It’s a tough process,” he said.
Phelps said Baxter’s work in the film room should help with what he’s trying to accomplish in practice.
“He’s been watching some film on (Indianapolis Colts defensive end) Dwight Freeney, so he’s trying to master that one,” Phelps said. “We’ve got to tone it down a little since we don’t have pads on and we don’t want him running into the quarterbacks. But he’s worked on that.”
Progar isn’t adding a move, and instead will work this spring on refining his technique on the rush. He said a drill the defensive linemen use in practice called the “Four corner drill” where they work on several different moves quickly with dummies will go a long way towards making his technique a natural aspect of his rush.
“The biggest key for me is to start working my hands more instead of just trying to run guys over,” Progar said.
Improvement there can be one more thing that Progar says he can teach to inexperienced defensive ends Anthony Wells and Stephen O’Neal.
“He took complete control of that role and made a lot of plays for us,” Phelps said. “Now he’s a got a year under his belt and his confidence is showing out here on the practice field the first two days.”